The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 11/17/15
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Enemy that
celebrates death over life – still calculations aside and persuade
governments all over the world to come together and fight a new enemy so
vile, it is once again an enemy for all of us.
An enemy that celebrates death over life. An enemy that is enshrined
slave-owning as a religious right.
The question is, has ISIS killed enough to unite Russia and the U.S.?
France and Turkey? Saudi Arabia and Iran in a battle against it?
The answer sadly, is probably not. But hey, this is Paris, one can dream.
I`m Richard Engel, Rachel will be back tomorrow. MSNBC`s coverage of the
attacks on Paris continues now with Lawrence O`Donnell.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: This is MSNBC`s continuing coverage of the
Paris terror attacks.
French police now believe there were nine participants in Friday night`s
attacks in Paris, not just the eight they previously estimated.
Seven of those attackers died in the attacks, including the brother of
Salah Abdeslam who police believe escaped and fled to Belgium, they have
been searching for him for days now.
And today, they added another suspect to their search, one whose identity
is unknown. Police now believe that the Friday night attacks were carried
out by three teens with three terrorists in each team.
French police released a photograph of one of the attackers who blew
himself up outside the Stade de France. Authorities are asking for the
public`s help in identifying that man.
In Hanover, Germany, a bomb threat forced the evacuation of tens of
thousands of spectators before a soccer match between Germany and the
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was scheduled to attend. The match was
cancelled. The second stadium in Hanover, the site of a concert was also
Under heavy security, the soccer match between France and England at
Wembley Stadium in London went off without incident.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince William were among the 80,000
attendees who honored the victims of the Paris attacks by singing French
Joining us now from Paris is Nbc`s Kate Snow. Kate, what is the latest
KATE SNOW, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Lawrence, let me start with
Hanover, Germany, you just mentioned that. That was really big news here
in Europe this evening.
And that`s when a match between Germany and the Netherlands had to be
stopped at the last minute. They cleared out the stadium.
Authorities there worried because of a bomb threat. The German police
chief telling a German broadcaster the threat involved explosives going off
inside the stadium.
Now, that did not materialize. They did not find any explosives and they
did not make any arrests, but it was a scare, to be sure.
Turning to here in France, Lawrence, what`s happening here now at this hour
is the search for another potential attacker who may still be out there.
Remember that French authorities have said that they thought there were
eight attackers in total, seven of whom had died, one of whom they were
searching for, a 26-year-old Belgium man named Salah Abdeslam.
Well, now they say they are looking for a ninth person, another attacker
unnamed at this point, but someone they are very clearly on the lookout for
now and a manhunt is under way.
The French Justice Minister telling Nbc News separately that a Syrian
passport that was found near one of the suicide bombers, you recall, that
The minister saying it was likely not genuine, not a genuine Syrian
passport. Still they`re now asking the public for help in identifying the
man pictured in that passport.
So they`re asking people to see if they recognize that man in the image.
On Capitol Hill, Senator Richard Burr, the Chairman of the Senate
Intelligence Committee spoke with reporters this afternoon after a
briefing, saying that it was likely that militants here in Paris used
encryption to plan this attack and to talk with each other.
He also said that there`s a strong likelihood that the attacks were
directed by ISIS, and that`s a distinction, not just inspired by, but
directed by the group.
As the investigation continues, Lawrence, so do the airstrikes again here
on a Tuesday, late into the night. There are French airstrikes under way.
And so important, I think, to remember. I`m standing at the Place de la
Republique, and behind me is this memorial, and even though, Lawrence, it`s
4:00 in the morning now, we still see people coming out and placing their
Important to remember 129 people killed, more than 350 people injured. And
Lawrence, at this hour, 57 people remain in intensive care.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Kate, thanks very much for joining us. Let`s go to
Brussels now where we`re joined by Nbc News Claudio Lavanga. Claudio, the
manhunt is centering there.
CLAUDIO LAVANGA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, Lawrence, the manhunt
continues all across Europe of course as Salah Abdeslam is being sought
And the police and intelligence forces of different countries, Eurozone
joining forces. But of course, this is the place where they will have to
start from because this is the place where Salah Abdeslam was born, was
raised and was particularly radicalized.
This is where President Hollande said that they organized the plot before
they carried out in France.
This is the place where they found the weapons, and this is the place where
the family of Salah Abdeslam still lives.
Now, the brother Mohammed was arrested, was among a number of people
arrested last on Saturday, he was later released. The police believes that
he doesn`t have any links with the brother and the attacks there.
But Mohammed appeared on television a couple of times saying that his
family is shocked. And he even made an appeal today on French television,
calling for his brother to turn himself in.
Well, that hasn`t happened, of course. Salah is still on the run. But
this is the place where he is believed to have at least gone through, if
he`s not here – still here yet.
Because of course, as you mentioned earlier, two suspects were arrested for
aiding his escape from France. So he must have passed through Belgium at
some stage on Saturday.
The police doesn`t know yet whether he is still here, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Claudio Lavanga reporting from Brussels. Joining us
now is Laura Heim(ph), White House correspondent and U.S. Bureau Chief for
Canal (INAUDIBLE), who has details on the structure of the terror cells
involved in the Paris attacks.
Laura, what are – we`re learning more now – what are we learning?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re learning that it was a very sophisticated cell
composed of three different units.
You had three men who were aiming at the restaurants, three men who were
aiming the stadium, the French stadium, and you had three men aiming the
What is really interesting is the unit composed of three men aiming the
restaurants on Friday night, two of them escaped and the French
investigators believe that the two men who escaped are brothers.
Nobody knows where they are. People think that one of them crossed the
border between France and Belgium. There`s one of his friends who has been
arrested at this moment in Belgium.
He`s questioned. He took a lawyer. The lawyer is saying that this brother
was questioned at one point on Saturday morning by the police.
We don`t know precisely what`s happening, we just know and the
investigators are quite worried about that. That two brothers who
committed attacks on Friday night are at large and nobody knows what`s
going to happen.
There`s another information which in my opinion is quite interesting. The
policeman and the people in charge of the investigation received an audio
And in this audiotape, you have the voice of someone who is claiming
responsibility for the attacks in the name of the Islamic State.
And the French investigators were able to identify the name and the voice
on the tape, and it`s a Frenchman, and it`s absolutely fascinating to
understand where this Frenchman is coming from.
The investigators are fully convinced that this man was also behind the
attack. It`s another French person, meaning it`s a French who was bombing
France, who was fully radicalized in the `90s, his name is Fabian
Claude(ph), again he has a nickname, Omar.
And after the `90s, this man was fully radicalized by another man in France
who was coming apparently from Syria. And they hide themselves inside the
And in 2004, Fabian(ph) left for Egypt, and what is fascinating is that in
2004, he began in Egypt apparently to create a cell to finance people to
commit suicide bombing against soldiers, American soldiers in Iraq.
He came back to France in 2009, and in 2009, he went to the police, to the
French police authority and he gave himself up. And he went to prison, and
for five years he was in prison.
People think that at this time he became more and more radicalized.
Imagine someone who has committed an anti-Semitic act-like in France.
His name is Mohammed Muhar Ntulist(ph), he denied that, but definitely
people think that he had connection with Mohammed Muhar who committed a
horrible attack in France in 2012.
And then he disappeared. And apparently according to the investigators I
spoke with, he went to Syria.
And what is fascinating in this story is that you see that they`re
preparing themselves for a long time that it`s not in three months, that it
takes years for them to attack targets that they precisely chose and that
it`s a global organization.
Because you speak now about Belgium, you speak about France, you speak
about Syria, you speak about Greece, it`s completely global.
And now you speak also about Egypt and Iraq, and it`s also, always the same
People who are born in France, who are fully radicalized, and then who go
to Syria and they come back and they commit attacks against their homeland.
O`DONNELL: Laura, what do the French authorities know about where that
call came from? The call that Fabian(ph) made claiming credit for the
Islamic State for these attacks.
Do they think it was an international call or he was calling from somewhere
outside the country?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They do not know, Lawrence, they absolutely did not
know what I know when I asked the question, is that, it`s a recorded
message, the length of the message is five minutes, 30 seconds.
And they worked very hard since they received this message to, again,
identify the voice. And they`re completely sure that the voice is this man
because they had in their archives this voice, because this guy, again, has
And what is fascinating also in the story is to see that those men, all the
men who committed attacks against Paris on Friday were well known by the
Some of them, according to our research were arrested, they were
questioned. Some of them were ID`d. Again, it`s going to create a huge –
for limiting France about – involving terrorism.
O`DONNELL: All right, Laura, please stay with us. We`re going to take a
break, and when we come back, President Obama has just spoken to reporters
in the Philippines.
He had strong words for governors back here in the United States and about
the issue of Syrian refugees coming to the United States.
O`DONNELL: We have breaking news from the Philippines where President
Obama just spoke within the hour, he had some very strong language about
what`s happening here in the United States, the resistance to accepting
We will have that next.
O`DONNELL: We have breaking news at this hour from Manila where President
Obama is attending the APEC Summit.
He was at a press conference a short time ago where the “Associated Press”
asked President Obama about his reaction to the refugee crisis.
And the President responded with some strong criticism toward the governors
and the presidential candidates; Republican presidential candidates who
have said that Syrian refugees should not be accepted in the United States.
Let`s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to the refugee
debate that`s been taking place, I gather, while we`ve been gone.
What happened in Paris is terrible. And because you have this vibrant,
modern, open, diverse, tolerant western city that reminds us of home, that
reminds us of our own cafes and our own parks and our own stadiums.
I understand why the American people have been particularly affected by the
gruesome images that have happened there.
And it is important for us to be reminded that we have to be vigilant.
That rooting out these terrorists networks and protecting the homeland is
hard work and we can`t be complacent or lulled into thinking somehow that
we are immune from these kinds of attacks.
That`s why we built an entire infrastructure over the last decade-plus to
make it much harder for terrorists to attack us. To go after terrorists
where they live and plan these attacks.
To coordinate with our partners and our allies to improve our intelligence.
All the work that we`ve been doing in our intelligence communities and our
military over the last decade is in recognition of the fact that this is
something we should be concerned about.
And we got to work hard to prevent it. But we are not well served when in
response to a terrorist attack we descend into fear and panic.
We don`t make good decisions if it`s based on hysteria or an exaggeration
of risks. And I think the refugee debate is an example of us not being
well served by some of the commentary that`s been taking place by officials
back home and in the media.
Understand under current law, it takes anywhere from on average 18 to 24
months to clear a refugee to come into the United States.
They are subjected to the most rigorous process conceivable. The
intelligence community vets fully who they are.
Biometrics are applied to determine whether they are, in fact, somebody who
might threaten the United States.
There is an entire apparatus of all of our law enforcement agencies and the
center that we use for countering terrorism to check and ensure that a
refugee is not admitted that might cause us harm.
And if anything, over the last several years, this refugee crisis as you
mentioned in Europe, we`ve been criticized that it is too – so cumbersome
that it`s very difficult for us to show the kind of compassion that we need
to for these folks who are suffering under the bombings of Assad and the
attacks of ISIL.
They`re victims of this terrorism. And so, if there are concrete, actual
suggestions to enhance this extraordinary screening process that`s already
in place, we`re welcome – we`re open to hearing actual ideas.
But that`s not really what`s been going on in this debate. When candidates
say we won`t admit 3-year-old orphans, that`s political posturing.
When individuals say that we should have a religious test and that only
Christians, proven Christians should be admitted, that`s offensive and
contrary to American values.
I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the
rhetoric that`s been coming out of here during the course of this debate.
ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there`s a war between Islam and the
west. And when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility
suggesting that Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are
in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative.
It`s counterproductive and it needs to stop. And I would add by the way,
these are the same folks often times who suggested they`re so tough that
just talking to Putin or starring down ISIL or using some additional
rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there.
But apparently they`re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United
States of America as part of our tradition of compassion.
At first, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during
debates, now they`re worried about –
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: We are breaking – we are breaking into the President`s
comments, I`m sorry, with more breaking news.
We have two Air France bomb threats called into Air France flights from the
United States, both of them now safely on the ground.
One flight number 55 from Dallas to Paris, it has been diverted to Halifax,
Nova Scotia. It is safely on the ground.
The other Air France flight number 65 from Los Angeles International
Airport to Paris, it has been diverted to Salt Lake City.
It is safely on the ground in Salt Lake City. We`re joined now by aviation
expert Anthony Roman joined by phone.
And Anthony, it seems like these bomb threats must have been called in
shortly after takeoff, probably within an hour.
Those destinations that they reached were in the case of Salt Lake City,
what about 65 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport and Nova
Scotia, about an hour and a half or two hours from Dallas.
What is your reading of what will be going on with those planes on the
ANTHONY ROMAN, AVIATION SECURITY EXPERT (via telephone): Well, there are
very particular protocols that both the captain and the aviation industry
coupled with law enforcement has to follow at this time.
The first thing the captain is going to do is announce either cryptically
or through a coded message through the transponder, it would be a coded
signal that there is a bomb threat.
If they can do it through the radio in an audio fashion expeditiously
without creating any undo risk to themselves, they will do that.
Air traffic control will then issue immediate vectors to the closest
suitable airport that can handle an aircraft of that size.
Subsequent to that, almost simultaneously, the military will be notified,
scrambled, interceptor jets, which will escort the airliner down.
And remain over the airport while law enforcement, bomb squads and special
operation units are deployed to the airport to secure the aircraft, remove
the passengers, keep them in a secured location, and begin to search the
aircraft for any possible explosives.
And that is the foundation of integrated response to the situation such as
O`DONNELL: We have images on the screen now of flight number – Air France
flight number 65 on the ground in Salt Lake City.
I think Air France runs the big airbuses on those routes, the A380s, those
kinds of planes. How long will it take to search an aircraft like that and
be satisfied that there is no explosive device aboard?
ROMAN: Well, the first protocol is to evacuate the passengers if they are
under no immediate threats from any third parties on the aircraft.
They then have to ensure that no passengers are “lost”. In other words,
that none of them move from the crowd and that they secure them in a – in
a facility where each passenger can be fully identified, plus referenced
and questioned with regards to this possible incident.
Simultaneously, the bomb squad will begin to assess what the risk is.
Chances are, they`ll place robotics on to the plane and first search the
plane with robotics that have cameras, bomb sniffers, chemical detection
sensors and those kinds of things.
And following that, the human element will enter the plane fully geared up
in anti-bomb suits that can protect the agents that are in that high-risk
environment, and they will conduct a more methodical search using detection
equipment, bomb sniffing dogs and the like.
O`DONNELL: And do the passengers themselves in a situation like this, they
– some – there`s got to be some element of treating some of them as
possible suspects in this situation.
ROMAN: Well, I think suspects is a kind of strong word here. What there
will be is detained and secured and questioned.
Whether or not it then gets elevated to a higher suspicion is dependent on
the results of background investigations that are immediately conducted on
all of the passengers, cross-referencing their tickets, their passports,
their identification, their criminal records, any known wants and warrants.
At that point, it could escalate with regard to their status to be a
suspect. But initially, everyone is a person of interest.
O`DONNELL: And to these two different airport facilities where these
planes are on the ground now, Salt Lake City, presumably a major airport,
major American airport with major American law enforcement assets available
They presumably have everything that you`ve been talking about, for the
bomb-sniffing dogs and presumably the robotic capacity to search the
ROMAN: They will, but it will be a multi-pronged response from the city
and local police, the state police, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the
So, together they have a very robust response. They have the right
equipment, they will deploy snipers in the area. They will deploy
perimeter security, they will have surveillance agents in the area.
The local police will be scouring the parking lots to make sure that
everything remains secure. So, it`s a much bigger effort than it appears
on the surface.
O`DONNELL: What about at the airport in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I`ve never
been on the ground there. What capacities do they have there to handle an
Air France – Airbus 380 landing there in need of this kind of search?
ROMAN: Well, Halifax is a robust airport that can handle an aircraft of
that type. And the Royal Canadian mounted police are well equipped to
handle this kind of emergency.
So, I don`t see any difficulty there at all.
O`DONNELL: We`re joined now by phone by Jay Blackman, he`s an Nbc News
aviation producer. Jay, how long do you think it will be before these
planes can be cleared before we have a result about what`s actually on
JAY BLACKMAN, AVIATION PRODUCER, NBC NEWS (on the phone): Honestly,
Lawrence, I think that this is out of an abundance of caution, obviously,
what was happened in France. Everybody is nervous and is a little bit of
hurry trigger finger there. These usually take an hour or so to clear. We
have got a lot of passengers and a lot of luggage since they are going to
be going overseas. And as their previous guest was talking about, they
will go over with the fine tooth comb to see what they can find. Hopefully
they will find nothing and they will send these passengers on their way to
O`DONNELL: I just want to read some notes that we obtained, a passenger on
the plane named Keith Russell. This is on the fight from Los Angeles to
Paris, the flight departed around 3:50 p.m. pacific time. They were about
two hours into the flight, which is why they would have put down in Salt
Lake City as the nearest major facility they could land at. They were
having a meal. This passenger was in business class. The flight
attendants came out, grabbed everyone`s plates and announced they would be
making an emergency landing. This passenger says that everyone remained
calm. When they did land, buses were waiting outside. Passengers were
taken to a confined area. Only passengers were in that area where they
were taken. That conforms with what Anthony Roman told us would happen. A
person saying they were with the FBI said that he would he would be
interviewing the people and what he called was due to a quote “unsafe
flying condition on the flight.” So that is all the passengers knew by the
time they were on the ground and about to be questioned by the FBI.
This passenger, Keith Russell, also said he could not confirm reports that
someone was attempting to break into the cockpit. That is apparently one
of the reports involving the flight from Los Angeles to Paris. But he
pointed out that it`s a double decker airplane. It is that big A-380 and
he would not necessarily had a view of what was going on from the cockpit
from where he was sitting.
Anthony Roman, this report that we have from this passenger conforms
precisely to the outline you gave us of what would happen when this plan
got on the ground. And so, these passengers did not know that there was
this bomb threat. Would they be informed of that during the FBI interview?
ANTHONY ROMAN, AVIATION EXPERT (on the phone): They may or may not be
informed. It depends, Lawrence, on the information both in terms of
physical evidence and intelligence that the FBI agents have during the
interview which may escalate into the interrogation, depending on the
information develop from the passenger, from intelligence sources and from
So they will use whatever techniques they believe will be most effective
given the data that they had at the moment. And those tactics may change,
and the information provided to the passengers may change as the
investigation of all the passengers proceeds during the evening.
O`DONNELL: Jay Blackman, what do you expect to be the next developments in
this? You have covered these situations as news stories before. When can
we expect some official comment on this?
BLACKMAN: I mean, I think that, you know, what you`re seeing here is
standard. They take the plane to an area, which is in the vernacular known
as the penalty box, which is away from a terminal in case there is a bomb
onboard. They take the passengers off, usually bus them to a separate area
so they can be questioned by the FBI. Yes, it is standard for the FBI to
respond in these situations.
I would think that they will question people until they are satisfied. The
both of these threat were phoned in at the same time to both of these air
France flights. So it could be the same person, it could be a different
person. But I would expect that within an hour or so, these flights will
potentially be cleared obviously if there`s nothing untoward going on them.
And again, they would be - the passengers will re-board and be on their way
to France. Obviously, not what they were planning onboard of their flight.
But out of an abundance of caution in the current environment, this is what
they have to do. There have been a number of planes since the event in
Paris that have, you know, made emergency landing or have not taken off
because of suspicious passengers or because of. And this is what they have
to do. They have to run all of these ground just to be safe.
O`DONNELL: Do they have remove, Jay, do they remove all of the luggage,
the checked bags on the plane?
BLACKMAN: They do. They - I have seen a number of these where they will
take the bags. They will lined them up next to each other in the tarmac
and they bring out bomb sniffing dog. And those dogs check every single
O`DONNELL: And then do those bags get linked up to passengers? I`m
wondering what the passengers are in for in terms of this hour or two on
the ground or more. Do then they have to identified their checked bags
before those checked bags get loaded back on the plane.
BLACKMAN: You know, I don`t believe so. I think if they don`t alarm then
the dogs don`t alert to them that they just get loaded back on the plane.
Typically in this situation, the airlines do their best to make the
passengers comfortable. You know, sometimes, even going as far at feeding
them. The risk here on flights that with bomb threats are that the pilots
time-out, so to speak. Meaning, they run out of man of hour that they
allowed to fly over the Paris and the flight has to be cancel. That is
something that the airlines will be very cognizant of to make sure that the
pilots are legal, so to speak so that they can continue on their journey to
But they are – they will – as Anthony said, they will do all of their
procedures to make sure that nothing untoward is on this plane. And that
this is an idle threat, but they have to take every one of them seriously.
O`DONNELL: Anthony Roman, does Halifax have the capacity to put these
passengers overnight? Is there enough of toll space or bed space in
Halifax, n disclosure to do that. Certainly there is in Salt Lake City.
We know that they would be able to put them up overnight. If they run into
that situation that Jay was just talking about where they have crossed into
the spot where the pilots will be on duty too long. They won`t be able to
continue to fly.
ROMAN: Well, Halifax has turned into a tourist destination. So there is -
and I`ve been at Halifax airport. It`s a robust airport with robust
facilities. The law enforcement community there is sophisticated as well.
I don`t necessarily agree with Jay respectfully that this is going to take
two or three hours. I think it`s likely that these flights will be
canceled for one of two reasons.
One, the A-380 is a huge aircraft. And the primary function here is to
ensure that no surreptitious explosive device or any device of risk is
embedded anywhere in this aircraft. Now how can a device like this be
embedded in an aircraft? All it can be embedded by a baggage handler. It
could be embedded by a mechanic who slipped by security screening. It can
be embedded in so many nooks and crannies in this aircraft, that it will
take a substantial amount of time to clear these aircrafts relative to the
threat, the same thing with the luggage, the same thing with the
passengers. I think we are looking at a substantial amount of time. I
think the pilots will definitely time-out and I don`t think these aircraft
are going anywhere this evening.
O`DONNELL: Anthony, when you say these flights will be cancelled, when you
have this air France, air bus A-380 on the ground in Halifax, does that
mean that they would fly in a different plane at some point to take these
people out? Or this plane will be what takes these passengers out of Nova
Scotia, it will just be possibly a different flight number and scheduled as
a different flight?
ROMAN: Well, either/or can happen, Lawrence, but I believe what`s happened
in this case and what`s most likely to happen is that they will send
another (INAUDIBLE) aircraft.
O`DONNELL: OK. We`re also joined by phone now by Evans Coleman, a
Evan, what do you make of this? Two bomb threats phoned into two Air
France trans-Atlantic flights today, tonight. One from Los Angeles
international airport to Paris. The other from Washington Dulles airport
to Paris. Both being phoned in around the same time, around the same time.
And both planes safely getting down on the ground at the nearest airport
about the same time.
EVAN COLEMAN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST (on the phone): Yes, I mean, look,
and this is obviously a case where we are acting out of an abundance of
caution. It`s unlikely, I think, that a terrorist group would seek to bomb
an aircraft leaving the United States, of course, be traveling to the
United States. So that already was, you know, makes it unlikely.
But again, I think, in the wake of what happened in Paris, I think a lot of
people are afraid and that`s unfortunate, the side effect of what happened
and here you see what can also happened if the people can exploit this for
their own reasons. And it is unclear by someone would call a bomb threat
to an Air France liners. Hopefully this is just a hoax. But even so, you
wonder why someone would do that.
O`DONNELL: And Evan, whether it`s a hoax or not, what happens on the
investigative end about who phoned in this bomb threat?
COLEMAN: Well, I mean, it can be challenging. Because, you know, it used
to be that people have fixed phone numbers, in which case you could trace
back a phone fairly easily. But these days with voiceover IP and what not,
it becomes easier and easier for folks to spoof other phone numbers and
becomes almost impossible after a while to trace people back. So if
someone who is doing this and they were sophisticated about it, whether or
not they were for real, whether or not this was some kind of very sick joke
or whether or not this has something to do with terrorism, it`s not
guaranteed that they can trace back the connection if someone is properly
layered their communication.
O`DONNELL: And Evan, the ability to make the bomb threat calls in an
untraceable way is a pretty – basically pretty easy thing to do at this
stage in telecommunications.
COLEMAN: Well, look, it`s not easy, but it doesn`t require a Ph.D. And
there are kids around the world that swat each other every day and they do
exactly this. I mean, that`s what they`re doing. They`re on outskating
their communications to a point where police – it`s just not practical for
them to figure out who actually was calling in these fake phone calls.
So, you know, if a 17 or 18-year-old on the Internet is capable of doing
something like this and getting away with it, then you know, that tells you
that the potential market for people that could have done this is pretty
large. It is not just, you know, high-tech computer nerds. There is a lot
of people who have the ability to do this kind of thing.
O`DONNELL: Jay Blackman, what are you expecting by way of official comment
from air France once they`ve got themselves in a position to be able to do
that? They have got a lot at stake here, including people`s confidence in
the airline. There are other options to get from Los Angeles to Paris.
There is other options to get from Washington to Paris, than using Air
France. And so, they have - they are under a lot of pressure tonight when
they have to deal with this publicly.
BLACKMAN: Well, what`s interesting, Lawrence, is several months ago, there
was a spate of telephonic bomb threats where people were calling in threats
to airlines, many of them coming internationally. They were flying into
the United States and they were landing and being delayed. I think what
Air France will do is put out a statement that will say something to the
effect of, out of concern and safety of our customers, we did what we
thought was necessary, cooperated with law enforcement, and we will do our
best to help our customers get back and continue on their journey.
I think that`s all they can do. They have to think of the safety and
security of their passengers first and foremost. But this is,
unfortunately as Evan pointed out, this is somebody who thinks - hopefully,
thinks that it`s funny to put in a bomb threat and to watch our coverage
knowing that they did this and it is irresponsible and it is dangerous.
And it`s something that will be taken seriously.
As you well know, this is a federal crime. It`s an interference with a
flight, interference with a flight crew. And if they were able to trace it
back, someone would be in a significant amount of trouble.
O`DONNELL: We are joined now by `New York Times` columnist Nicholas
Kistof. He has been at the table with me. He was here to discuss other
things which we may or may not get to.
And Nick, talk about what this will add to the already impact of what the
Paris attack, the impact that they are having around the world. And what
this particular possibility of the threat to air travel will mean to people
outside of France now as this tragedy and now crisis continues.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, of course, this comes
on top, not only of the Paris terror attack, but also on the bombing of the
Russian plane leaving Sharm el-Sheikh. And that was said to have as little
as two pounds of explosives on it. It was so devastating. And obviously,
that`s going to make everybody in aviation very nervous.
But I do think that we also have to be careful, those of us in the media,
not too much to amplify what may be empty threats because we don`t want to
give people the capacity to disrupt aviation, not only with bombs, but also
with random phone calls that they make to airlines. And I mean, there is a
fine line there but I think we have to be careful about the incentives that
we create for hoaxes.
O`DONNELL: Yes, that`s a good point.
And Anthony Roman, it strikes me that phoning in the bomb threat is not the
way the Islamic state or Al-Qaeda work when it comes to attacking aircraft.
They don`t have any history of phoning in a bomb threat. If they`re
capable – if they are trying to bring down a plane, they simply try to
bring down the plane. And if that`s what they did on the Russian flight
out of Egypt, they weren`t in any mood. They would have no interest on
issuing any kind of warning ahead of time.
ROMAN: Well, I agree with you, Lawrence. That is that the Islamic State
or (INAUDIBLE) operanda. They simply don`t do that. However, with regards
to the disruptions of flights and airline services throughout the United
States and through all the cooperating members of the aviation community of
the international treaties, governing flight safety. Anytime, and any
participant in those treaties, a bomb threat is called in. The same
protocols must be followed. So whether we give these bomb threats in the
press credence or not, these bomb threats will result in airline
The protocols are absolute and have to be followed. And there is not even
require the cooperation of airline, although that`s mandated. That`s a law
enforcement issue. It is the responsibility of the captain to follow those
protocols and the airlines to cooperate during those protocols. So these
protocols are absolute and anytime that a flight is threatened, that flight
will be grounded and all of the protocols will be followed exactly the same
O`DONNELL: We are joined now by MSNBC security analyst Jim Cavanaugh by
And Jim, I`ve been wondering, in our history of these phoned in bomb
threats to airplanes and the airplane then safely lands at a place like
Salt Lake or a place like Halifax, about two hours after takeoff, have we
ever actually found a bomb on one of these planes that`s been landed this
JIM CAVANAUGH, MSNBC LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, we have found bombs on
plane, but specifically after a threat, I don`t recall any. There`s been
bombs on planes and there has been threats on planes. And there has been
bombs found after called in bomb threats in over the years. So, you know,
people say well, a guy wouldn`t call them in. That`s absolutely not true.
We have had many cases where people did plant a bomb. The weather
underground, (INAUDIBLE), they created bombs in federal buildings and they
call it first.
O`DONNELL: Yes, but the big, big, big difference there was their mission
was to not injury anyone. That was their actual mission.
O`DONNELL: But I`m talking about in the modern age of terrorism,
especially, you know, Al-Qaeda Islamic state style terrorism. The
telephone bomb threat strikes me as unusual. And it would seem to me that
if there was an intent to blow up the plane, why make a phone call? Why
not just let whatever you did or planned happen?
CAVANAUGH: No, exactly right. I mean, they would love to blow the plane
out of the sky and then tell you how they did (INAUDIBLE). But Anthony is
right. I mean, they would to put (INAUDIBLE) of the side of the tarmac.
You can see a very thorough search of all the luggage here because the
Russians reported this morning that they found the explosive residue on the
luggage. And so that`s an indicator that, you know, a two-point bomb or
the equivalent could have been, may have been in the cargo hole of that
So, you know, luggage, people can get it. A bomb is not that large. And
so, all that luggage will have to be thoroughly searched. The aircraft has
to be thoroughly searched. And it`s going to take a long time. And I
agree that, you know, most likely they would try to get on the airplane.
Given what we have all seen in the world the last ten days, Lawrence. So
this is going to be the most thorough search of those airplanes you`ve ever
seen even though, you know, (INAUDIBLE).
O`DONNELL: Go ahead, Nick Kristof.
KRISTOF: I mean, I think one idea is, as you say, the fact that this was
called in. That`s certainly not Islamic state style. But the other oddity
is also that these are planes that left the U.S. And I mean, I have flown
a lot of Air France flights to Paris from all kinds of places. Security,
if you were trying to plant a bomb on a plane on an Air France plane headed
to Paris, you would not do it from the U.S. because security in the U.S.
tends to be pretty good. If you`re flying an Air France plane from Niger,
from Central African Republic, from Morocco, from Yemen, then security is
going to be, you know, you`re in a much better position to bribe somebody
to get that bomb onboard. So that strikes me as another thing that seems
unusual in this episode.
O`DONNELL: Yes, let`s go to that.
Evan Coleman, this would churn on exactly how much confidence we have in
security arrangements at Los Angeles international airport and at Dulles
airport in Washington, and all of the personnel working there who have
access to these airplanes. How would we assess that?
COLEMAN: Well, I tell you, it`s not an easy task, but let`s put it this
way. I mean, the folks that work at U.S. airports, they do go through a
fairly rigorous screening. This is not Sharm el-Sheikh.
And again, I think it`s very important to emphasize two factors here.
Number one, terrorists usually seek to bomb planes headed to the United
States, or to a western country. Number two, you`re right, you know, bomb
threats are an anachronism of the 1970s. I mean, that`s not something that
terrorists group really almost of any kind do anymore. So you do wonder
why that would pop-up here. This doesn`t really add up to something that
would be in any way linked to what happened in Paris.
O`DONNELL: Anthony Roman, what is your confidence level in the security in
terms of – and the personnel involved in – who have access to aircraft at
Los Angeles international airport, and at Dulles airport?
ROMAN: You know, Lawrence, I again have to respectfully disagree with Mr.
Kristof and your other guest relative to the ability of the potential to
get a bomb on a U.S. aircraft on U.S. soil. I think Jim Cavanaugh will
remember well the case in Hartsfield where for five years a baggage handler
for one of the major airlines had been in cahoots with a former airline
employee and was smuggling hundreds of weapons, including semiautomatic
weapons that were fully loaded in the passenger compartment overhead bins
and in the cargo hold. And these weapons were being shipped to Chicago and
New York for an extended period of time before this gun run ring was
thwarted. It would be just as easy to get an explosive device on a plane
using the same methods they did.
Now, Dulles has one of the most successful interception rates of weapons
and contraband going on aircraft. The real problem is the airside of the
airport where the baggage handlers, the lean people are, the cargo is being
loaded. I always believed and had been citing for quite a long time that`s
our weak link. It really needs some improvement.
O`DONNELL: Yes. I mean, over the years, I read certain stories in local
Los Angeles media about some of the security weaknesses at LAX people have
worried about in terms of the access to the aircraft there, but no such
reports in recent – the last few years.
Jim Cavanaugh, your assessment of that, about exactly how secure are U.S.
airports tonight in particular, LAX and Dulles in terms of people who have
access to the aircraft.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I think we are more secure, as it was pointed out, than
Africa, the Middle East and Sharm el-Sheikh. (INAUDIBLE) our security is
better, but we have more rigorous screening. So I think we are much
better. But Anthony said that it cannot be penetrated. And the other
point I would make is that it`s likely a hoax. Someone, you know, building
on world events, but some things we also have to pay attention to is
sometimes a girlfriend, an associate of a person who will do an evil act
finds out about it like the bomb and called it in because they don`t want
to see the loss of life. Now, let`s say that is the case here. But what I
am saying is people automatically assume that the caller is the bomb
player. Sometimes it is not. It`s a relative, a girlfriend. Someone who
doesn`t want to see the act go through. So law enforcement through the
years are going to thorough search, going through everything, and hopefully
they find nothing. And like Evan has said, you know, this is not anything
that ISIS would want to do if they are they would act or Al-Qaeda. They
are much more diabolical, much more deadly. They have much more access to
other parts of the world. And just crowds of people like we`ve seen in
So it doesn`t feel, doesn`t look like it at the moment, but it`s the only
thing we can do. And I think what aviation has to do it will fly given the
status of the world (INAUDIBLE) even better, even tighter to be sure that
stuff does not penetrate.
O`DONNELL: Yes, that`s a very good point. That this kind of call would be
made by someone who actually was trying to prevent it as opposed to someone
who was just kind of gleefully announcing it in hopes of it succeeding.
Jay Blackman, what can we expect, do you think, in terms of – again, I`m
coming back to this. We basically have virtually no official information
released yet on this from Air France. And so what time dog you expect on
this? How long basically will we wait before we get just a basic statement
from Air France about it?
BLACKMAN: Well, I think the Air France has confirmed that both their
flights have landed safety, both in Halifax and in Salt Lake. I would also
expect potentially a statement from the FBI acknowledging that they`ve
searched the flights. We may hear through other federal sources that the
all-clear has been given. But they are going to take their time that they
And to Jim`s point, I think that this may be the new normal for the next
few months, or even the next few years where you see a lot more of this.
And reacting the way that they do is really the only thing that you can do.
There is no other choice. (INAUDIBLE) and they are going to land those
planes and have them searched.
The one concern that I have is the more that this happens, the more that
hoax has happen, the more attention it`s given, the more frequently we will
see them. That`s a major concern, both for the airlines and for the
government. But there is certainly no choice but the air the side of
O`DONNELL: OK. We`re joined now in studio by Murtaza Hussain. He is a
reporter from “the Intercept” and expert on the Islamic state.
What`s your reaction with what we`ve seen of develop on these aircraft?
MURTAZA HUSSEIN, REPORTER, THE INTERCEPT: I think they`re being judicious
and careful in the light of what happened in Paris today. And hopefully it
does turn out to be a false alarm. I think in light of this event and in
light of another false alarm we had today in Germany, we have to be
cautious to make sure we are not playing into Islamic state`s hands by
endangering fear and panic and terror, which is the goal of the attacks.
And that why they calculate their messaging and their actions to generate
these kinds of responses.
O`DONNELL: And I mean, how do you – the trick here is balancing the,
maybe our older responses to these situations can`t continue, or have to be
adjusted in some way. When you look at the dynamics of this, we do an hour
of coverage of these flights that could turn out to be a hoax by, you know,
just a crazy teenager, we don`t know. And so, they have to do this in
terms of the security of the aircraft. But all of this, all of this
disruption, whether the Islamic State was involve or not, it has to be
something the Islamic state is happy to see.
HUSSAIN: Absolutely. And when they conduct their attacks they`re hoping
to create panic. And we absolutely need to have the highest level of
security and be cautious, especially in the direct wake of events like
occurred in Paris.
But on the other hand, we also need to make sure that we don`t give the
impression that we`re being shook or panicking over their actions. And I
think it`s evaluating this threat and seeing what goes on in the future, we
can make sure that this doesn`t become the new normal.
O`DONNELL: We have just gotten the word that the Dulles flight that is on
the ground in Nova Scotia has been cleared, or is going to be cleared and
is expected now to take off within two hours, a couple of hours in Nova
Scotia. So Jay Blackman`s timing on that seems to be just about right.
I`m going to have to just thank everyone for this emergency coverage of
Nick Kristof, thank you very much for joining us for the evening. Also,
Anthony Roman, thank you. Jay Blackman, Jim Cavanaugh, thanks for jumping
on the phone and Evan Coleman, thank you for getting in here. Flights from
the United States to Paris have made those emergency landings after unknown
threats both the plane are safely on the ground, one in Nova Scotia and one
in Salt Lake City.
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